[Fantastic Fest 2023] THE BOOK OF SOLUTIONS -- Michel Gondry's Surprisingly Unpretentious Film About Cinematic Pretention
Review by Sean Boelman
French filmmaker Michel Gondry is remembered fondly for directing movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, but he also has a few entities in his filmography that are less well-regarded. The Book of Solutions is his response to one of those “failures” in his career, urging audiences to appreciate the process as much as the art in an unexpectedly unfussy way.
The movie follows a filmmaker who, after his producers and financiers threaten to take control of the final cut of his latest work, retreats to the countryside with his crew in tow, hoping to finish the film his way. In many ways, The Book of Solutions feels cut from a similar cloth to Be Kind Rewind — another of Gondry’s odes to scrappy, DIY filmmaking.
Gondry’s latest is a subtly funny movie. The humor isn’t the type likely to have viewers rolling in their seats with laughter, but rather, having them hold a smirk on their face for the near entirety of the runtime. That being said, there is one cameo in the second act that’s so good it will get a few solid chuckles.
It’s important to realize that the film is, in many ways, a semi-autobiographical interpretation of Gondry’s own experience while making Mood Indigo. Of course, as one would expect from the filmmaker, it’s accentuated by eccentricities and surrealism in a way that allows it to have the distinct mark of its filmmaker.
The aspect of the movie that is likely to make or break most viewers’ appreciation of it is whether they are able to get on the same wavelength as the protagonist. Some may find the stand-in for Gondry himself to be conceited and insufferable, but as with much of the filmmaker’s best work, he infuses such a deep humanity into the absurdity that it’s hard not to be won over by the end.
Pierre Niney’s performance in the lead role is quite strong, capturing both the comedic and endearing aspects of the role. Although no one in the supporting cast shines particularly brightly until the third act, that plays into the film’s thematic narrative of the protagonist thinking the world revolves around him until he realizes it doesn’t.
Compared to some of Gondry’s other work, The Book of Solutions is much tamer and less inventive on a visual level. However, there are some images that Gondry manages to create that are absolutely wonderful. The very final moments in the movie stand out as particularly whimsical in a way that will leave a lasting impact on viewers.
The Book of Solutions isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it’s charming in its subtle humor and humanistic approach. Unlike many movies inspired by a filmmaker’s own experiences, Gondry’s feels neither too nostalgic nor blinded by rage, hitting an enjoyable sweet spot.
The Book of Solutions screened at the 2023 Fantastic Fest, which ran September 21-28 in Austin, Texas.